Imagine an employer knowingly paying an employee to do work that will undermine the employer. What’s more, that employee is allowed to spend company time complaining publicly about the employer.
It sounds preposterous, but that is exactly what the state of Illinois’ contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – the largest government-worker union in Illinois – allows. Illinois state employees are actually allowed to take time off from work, with pay, to do union work.
And you can be sure that work benefits the union and not the taxpayers footing the bill.
Over the years, AFSCME has been able to amass other considerable benefits for itself as well. State workers are the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. AFSCME employees receive platinum-level health insurance at little cost, and most get free health insurance at retirement.
And then there are other AFSCME perks – like lax disciplinary procedures that allow a worker to have 10 unauthorized absences without repercussions – that are unlike anything offered in the private sector.
Just how did AFSCME obtain all of these contract provisions?
Clearly, it isn’t because AFSCME is the underdog at the bargaining table when it comes to negotiations, as AFSCME leadership likes to claim. On the contrary, AFSCME is the 800-pound gorilla at the negotiating table.
At least three factors place AFSCME at a distinct advantage over state taxpayers when it comes to bargaining for a new contract.
The nature of collective bargaining favors unions over taxpayers
When AFSCME and the state negotiate, it isn’t AFSCME versus the governor at the bargaining table – it is AFSCME versus the taxpayers. And it is not a fair fight.
There are no natural checks on the demands of government-worker unions. The union can demand more because the state just passes the cost on to taxpayers, who have no choice but to pay.
What’s more, government-worker unions have a monopoly. There is one source for government services. And when a government-worker union threatens to strike, it is threatening to shut down government services, leaving residents with no competing provider of those services.
AFSCME’s political negotiations have warped the negotiating process
Political contributions mean power. And between 2002 and 2015, AFSCME gave more than $2.1 million to the election committees of current officeholders.
That includes the majority of current legislators: More than 66 percent of current representatives and more than 64 percent of current senators have received contributions from AFSCME.
AFSCME leverages these contributions to get its way. This means when negotiations or policy decisions are made, taxpayers aren’t represented by elected officials who have taxpayers’ interests in mind; they are “represented” by politicians who are beholden to AFSCME for their positions.
AFSCME negotiates contract provisions that give the union even more power
It isn’t enough that AFSCME has more power and political leverage than the state’s taxpayers. AFSCME then uses that position to secure even more power for itself in its contract with the state – like the contract provisions that force taxpayers to pay state employees to do union work.
In his offer to AFSCME, Gov. Bruce Rauner did not change the “release time” provisions, meaning that AFSCME employees are still entitled to the following:
- Time off – with pay – to perform union work.
- Time off – with pay – to learn how to become union stewards.
- Time off – with pay – to attend union orientation.
On top of all that the state is required to provide rooms for union meetings, it must provide the use of state phones, and it must grant access to state email systems, as well as to information about employees who are not union members.
In other words, taxpayers are actually paying state employees to use state resources to advance union causes to the detriment of state taxpayers.
Any of these three factors taken alone – the nature of collective bargaining, AFSCME’s political power or AFSCME’s negotiated power – places AFSCME in a more powerful position than state taxpayers when it comes to negotiations. But taken together, they place AFSCME on a totally different level.